Affirmative Action: Euthanize it, Don't Euphemize it.

Great volumes of tears are emitted in an article at Inside Higher Ed today, bemoaning … well, check it out for yourself:

A decades-old, popular program in which colleges prepare minority high school students for journalism degrees and careers in the field will no longer focus exclusively on minority students.

What they mean to say is: the program will no longer exclude white students. This change came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) on behalf of Emily Smith. According to the CIR description:

In early 2006, during her sophomore year in high school, Smith learned about a summer journalism "workshop" at Virginia Commonwealth University from a newspaper article. She went to the web site mentioned in the paper, downloaded the application and sent it in. …

Emily met all of the qualifications for the workshop except for one -- she was the wrong race. She didn't know race was a qualification because the application materials didn't ask her to state her race.

In April, Emily received an e-mail message telling her she had been accepted to the program. Five days later, Bonnie Davis, Co-Director of the program called Emily's house and spoke with her mother to make sure she had received the e-mail accepting her into the program. Then, two days later, Davis phoned the Smiths again and this time spoke with Emily. Davis asked Emily her race. Emily said she was "white." Davis told her she was "sorry" but the program was for minorities and she "couldn't come."

Oops. Not only is that behavior hurtful, insensitive, and arbitrary, but it's also almost certainly illegal. At least Virginia Commonwealth and the (sponsoring) Dow Jones News Foundation weren't confident enough in the legality of the program to defend it in court. Instead, they wisely decided to settle. Emily gets into the program, plus $25K in legal fees.

What's interesting about the IHE article are the euphemisms employed to fog up the simple reality of what was going on in the program. For example, that "focus" mentioned above shows up again later:

Under the agreement, all 27 programs [sponsored by the Dow Jones News Foundation] — which in the past have focused on minority students — will be opened to white students.

Ah, if only the segregationists in the sixties had adopted such nuanced language: "Sorry, Mr. Meredith; we're focused on white students here at Ole Miss."

The article interviews a couple of people who think racial discrimination is perfectly OK, as long as you're discriminating against white people. For example, Cristina Azocar, director of the Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University:

said she was disappointed and that the CIR lawsuit would hurt efforts to diversify journalism education and journalism.

As pointed out by CIR, a 100% whites-excluded program is actually pretty non-diverse. But such is the nature of euphemistic language: the whole point of it is to insulate us from the plain truth.

[More links and commentary from LaShawn Barber here.]

Last Modified 2012-10-19 3:05 PM EDT